Every great botanic garden needs an outstanding greenhouse facility to establish and acclimate the many varieties of plants, florals and vegetables it plants. For more than a decade, the Dallas Arboretum searched for appropriate land and greenhouse space, and in 2017 found it just seven miles away on an eight-acre parcel that straddles Dallas and Mesquite. After preparing the land and installing approximately 17,000 square feet of climate-controlled greenhouses, the Dallas Arboretum is now ready to dedicate the space at a private event on April 3 at 2 p.m. (press is welcome to attend with RSVP).
According to Dallas Arboretum Board Chairman Alan Walne, “Owning our greenhouses allows us to grow many small batches of unique specimens our guests look forward to seeing in the gardens. We can now cost-effectively grow 60 percent of the plant specimens used in our gardens. With installation of the first greenhouses, we have achieved a major goal of our master plan and protected ourselves for the future.”
The land was acquired in 2017, and the greenhouses were built in 2018, through the support of generous sponsors, including Phyllis and Tom McCasland, the Jeanne R. Johnson Foundation and the Hoblitzelle Foundation. The Horticulture staff moved onsite in November 2018 and started producing in December 2018.
Mary Brinegar, Dallas Arboretum president and CEO, said, “This facility is a game changer. Tom and Phyllis are among the most generous supporters of the Dallas Arboretum—from seed money for the Chihuly exhibition, the impetus behind The 12 Days of Christmas celebration and the renovation and permanent site of the sunken garden. They provided the money for the land purchase for these greenhouses, paid for fencing, security, utilities, communications and a portion of the greenhouses with a challenge grant to encourage others to complete the greenhouse construction as it is today. The McCaslands ask for no publicity, but our Executive Committee voted to name the Horticulture Center and acreage in honor of them as a tribute to their generosity.”
Jenny Wegley, Dallas Arboretum vice president of horticulture, said, “These greenhouses have tripled how many high-quality plants we can grow and that our visitors have come to expect. Before, we had limited capacity at the Arboretum and another facility. We’re now able to grow different varieties of plants, larger and better quality produce for A Tasteful Place, and a variety of cereal plants (i.e., wheat, oat, rice, etc.) for our Incredible Edible Garden in the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden.”
One highlight of the Horticulture Center is the new technology incorporated into the greenhouses. Called the Wadsworth Control System, this system operates the greenhouse at the touch of a screen, increasing the quality of plants grown. Ana Swinson, Dallas Arboretum greenhouse manager, said “This new technology is a first for us, and it’s helped us become better growers.”
Swinson and other staff can regulate the following functions right from a tablet screen:
- Temperature: ability to heat or cool the greenhouse via heaters
- Irrigation: how much water to use for various plants
- Humidity: ability to control the percentage of humidity based on plants’ needs
- Lighting/Automatic Shade: An automatic fabric shade uses less labor than when the staff had to manually cover and uncover plants. Shades are also used for heat retention in the winter/early spring. In the summertime, using the shade helps keep the greenhouse cool for Horticulture staff and volunteers working.
- Pad pumps.
Swinson added, “In addition to being able to control many functions, the system provides us with information to monitor how the greenhouses are working and send this information to a computer. If I have a successful grow one season, I can reestablish my greenhouse for the following season using the same variables. This technology allows us to grow, control and see what we’re doing and how we impact what we’re growing. Plus, a controlled environment is more predictable than being outside in the elements.”
Speaking of elements, the plant cuttings have a process for making it outside:
- Staff plants cuttings in large trays until the root systems are developed.
- Once root systems develop, plans are transplanted to pots until they reach the appropriate size.
- Once at the right size with a solid root system, the plants are carried to the outside gardens, where they’re acclimated.
- Once acclimated, those plants are transplanted into the Dallas Arboretum.
Wegley added, “Our biggest asset is climate control in the greenhouse, so now we can inspect our plants more carefully, an important part of what we do. Now we can step back and look at our plants, how we’re growing them and the quality of what’s being produced. These greenhouses give us the ability to do it accurately and precisely.”